Years ago, I had a motorcycle friend named Billy. Like many young men, Billy and I would ride around town, barhopping on our bikes trying to look cool and pick up women.
Billy was really good at it but I sucked and I didn’t know why.
I could not understand how he did it. It did not look like he was doing anything, but he spent a lot of time on the dance floor and rarely went home to his own house.
Me, on the other hand? It was as if I was invisible. Women practically pushed me aside to shove a napkin with a phone number into Billy’s hand.
Asking Billy how he did it was no help.
“I dunno. I just wait ‘till they look at me.”
What do you do when a woman looks at you?
“Well…I guess I look back.”
This went on for weeks until one fateful night when a woman put a napkin with her phone number on it in my hand.
Billy and I were sitting together at a small table in a cowboy bar. He left for a few minutes to visit the restroom. A woman walked up to the table where I now sat alone, looked at Billy as he walked away, then turned to me, shoved her napkin at me and said, “Here is my phone number. Give it to your friend,” and walked off.
That was a slap in the face! As far as she was concerned, I was just Billy’s social secretary.
What did I do? What I always do when I want to learn something. I got on the academic databases and researched “how to pick up women in bars.”
I found a trove a fascinating information. There were a number of academic studies about something called “human mating rituals,” natural and innate behaviors men and women use to communicate sexual attraction and availability.
Obviously, I did not have any of these natural and innate behaviors, which is way I was poking around in academic databases instead of meeting women at bars.
Here is what I learned:
There is a highly structured hierarchy of male and female behaviors involved in the search for romance. If you skip a step or do not wait for a signal to move to the next step, everything comes to a stop. If you do not stop the bouncer and the police get involved.
The first step in this process is eye contact.
Imagine you are a man sitting in a bar. You sip your drink and scan the environment. Nothing predatory or aggressive, just calmly looking at all the people in the room, chatting with your friends. Suddenly your gaze meets that of a woman halfway across the room. She holds your gaze for just an instant longer than would be appropriate in other settings.
That is the first step. Simply holding eye contact for about a quarter to half second longer than normal. It’s a sign of initial interest. That is what Billy meant when he said he waited for a woman to look at him.
Next in the human mating ritual is something called “temporarily closing proximity.” That means nothing more than getting physically closer and leaving, without any other kind of interaction, aside from another glance, longer this time.
So you walk past the table at which the woman is sitting, as if to go to the restroom or get another drink and glance in her direction and smile. If she returns the glance and the smile and then looks away, you can move to the next step. If she does not seem to notice you, she is communicating a lack of interest. Go back to your table and see if another woman holds your gaze.
Let’s say that she holds eye contact again. That is a good sign, but the game is just beginning. You have to follow each step in order or you will end up at home alone.
Now you can talk to her, but briefly. Ask her to dance, or offer to buy her a drink. Maybe send a drink over. This might seem like a minor thing, but it is vitally important. Eons of human evolution have gone into this mating dance, and sometimes-human evolution puts us in positions that may not seem fair, but have proven their value to human survival throughout history.
One of the primary roles of men is to protect and provide for woman and their children. Buying gifts for women is one way men show that they can provide for them. Dance is a way to demonstrate physical fitness and the ability to provide protection from other men or dangers in the environment. It is the Stone Age in a modern setting.
The first time you dance with a woman you cannot touch, so slow songs are out. Do not ask a woman to dance on a slow song. She will likely refuse. Instead, get on the dance floor during a fast song; make plenty of eye contact, smile and lead her back to her seat when the song ends.
Next step. Now the preliminaries are out of the way. At this point, the woman will do one of two things. She might thank you for the dance and look away, in which case it is game over. You blew it in the first test of providing security and support. Go back to your table and look for another gaze from a different woman.
On the other hand, she might invite you to sit at her table or the bar for a drink, or you might make the offer. The person making the offer is not important at this point, but agreement from the woman is paramount.
So now, you are sitting with her. Very likely, she will ignore you. She might not look at you, and instead check out the other men in the room. Maybe she will not respond to you, as if she cannot hear you or she has forgotten you are there.
At some point though, one of two things will happen.
Either she will turn her upper body towards you, smile and engage you in conversation, or she will ignore you until you go away. If you persist after she has made it clear she is not interested she will call the bouncer.
I have watched this hundreds of times and the lack of predictability at this stage is striking. There does not seem to be any indication of what is about to happen until she either turns her upper body towards you or ignores you while you try to spark a conversation.
So let’s say she wants to continue the ritual. You are talking to her and suddenly she turns her upper body towards you and smiles.
Now comes something I find amazing. Social scientists claim this particular thing happens every time a man and a woman get to this point. In addition, they usually do it almost simultaneously. I did not believe it until I saw it repeated many times.
They both sit up straight, throw their shoulders back, their chests out, and show off the goods. It is quick, subtle, and easy to miss, but if you watch for it, you will see it almost every time. Again, this has to do with the lessons of evolution. They are showing a potential mate their unique sexual attributes associated with protecting and nurturing offspring. For men, that means strength and muscles, while for woman it is about giving nourishment to babies.
Here is the interesting thing. Both women and men report noticing each other’s physique, but neither realizes that they have put themselves on display as well. They take note of the other persons attributes, and notice the other person taking stock of theirs, but have no idea of their complicity in this behavior.
Now you are sitting with this woman, getting to know a new friend. Again, no touching, only talk. But the talk is not really the important thing. If you want to know how things are going to end up keep an eye on the two glasses from which they are drinking.
Both parties use their drinking glasses as symbols indicating how emotionally close they feel to the other person. Watch people in a bar who have come to this stage and it sometimes looks like the glasses are chasing one another around. Most times, though, it is a gradual reduction in the space between the glasses.
This is a more intimate version of the “temporarily closing proximity” stage we examined earlier, but this time it is not so temporary. If things go well the woman will allow your glass to touch hers. The first time this happens might seem like an accidental or unintentional contact, but it isn’t. It is permission to move to the next step.
The talking continues, and if the talking is going well it will lead to direct physical touch, usually by the woman. Maybe a hand brushing against a shoulder or a very brief touch of fingertips to a thigh. Again, this might seem inconsequential because it is so fleeting, but it is a beginning.
Now physical touching becomes more frequent, and the couple turns their entire bodies towards one another, maybe shoulders touching while they sit, creating an intimate space to talk even in a roomful of people. The conversation becomes more intimate as well, planning the rest of the evening.
Now we will leave our couple to their plans, while we examine a few important lessons that might not be obvious.
Note that the man cannot get to the next stage without the express consent of the woman. If he misses a cue or misinterprets a behavior, he commits a serious social faux pas if he is lucky or a sex crime if not.
This is the thing I find most interesting about this ritual. We think of the man as being the aggressor, pursuing women until they acquiesce to his advancements, but that is not what is really happening at all.
Instead, men offer themselves up hoping for approval and acceptance. Men are always in competition with one another and the most important competition is the ability to attract females. At this point it is the women who hold power and make decisions about sex, romance and mating. That is true in every human culture for as far back as anthropologists can see, and it is true for every primate species and just about all mammals. And rattlesnakes, too, as we will see in a moment.
The important distinction to make is that attracting means just that — the ability to make oneself desirable to females. For example, male gazelles will taunt a pride of lions by grazing very close as if they do not realize the danger in which they put themselves. Eventually a lion will make the charge for dinner and the gazelle gracefully jets away, but after a while wanders back to repeat the performance.
Biologists watched this behavior for years and until recently could make no sense of it. What would compel a prey animal to taunt powerful predators, risking death in every encounter?
It is another mating ritual. It turns out that the only time male gazelles taunt lions until they charge is when female gazelles are present. The males are demonstrating their physical ability. The females chose mates that get closest to the lions and survive.
Mating rituals of rattlesnakes take on a similar contest. Male rattlesnakes follow the scent of females, so a confrontation between male snakes is inevitable. But it is not a contest of slashing fangs.
The two male rattlesnakes meet each other nose to nose, almost touching. Then one raises his head a little. The other raises his head a little higher. The first one out does him by a couple of inches. As this continues the snake’s bodies are touching. Sometimes intertwining as if they are mating. There is no aggression or violence. The contest ends when one snake cannot raise his head higher than the other can. The female snake offers herself to the winning snake as the loser slithers away.
For males of any species, it is all about displays of strength and dominance with females rewarding the winners with the opportunity to pass their superior DNA into the next generation. And it is the females who hold the power and make the decisions. Men propose, women dispose.
Next: How I Learned About Women, Part 2: My Neighbor Shows Me What Men Really Buy at Topless Bars
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